After four years, Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) Minister Barbara Creecy has finalised the process of awarding 15-year small-scale fishing (SSF) rights to fishers in the Western Cape.
The minister on Wednesday said she had given instructions for grant of rights letters to be issued to 62 small-scale fishing co-operatives, with a total membership of 3 850 declared fishers.
This marks the final province where these rights have been granted.
The Marine Living Resources Act was amended in 2019 to include small-scale fishers.
Creecy said: “This achievement signifies the end of the interim relief era and the formal inclusion of Western Cape fishing communities, whose livelihoods have been intertwined with fishing for centuries.
Historically, these communities faced systematic exclusion due to past injustices, hindering their participation in fishing operations.
“From today, the fishing co-operatives will promote employment and economic development in fishing communities as well as support food security, and decriminalise traditional fishing.”
In 2019, the department processed 8 646 applications from small-scale Western Cape fishers, with only 29% receiving recognition.
In 2020, due to complaints, an audit inquiry was initiated, leading to a court order to review and redo the verification process.
The process was redesigned, resulting in more than 5 000 applications from 109 fishing communities. Out of those, 84% were successful.
Aggrieved applicants were entitled to lodge an appeal and out of a total of 461 appeals, 431 were upheld.
Masifundise, an organisation that advocates for the rights of SSF, welcomed the finalisation of the process but expressed concern that “now that the box has been ticked, what is going to happen?”
“Co-operatives have been formed in 62 communities in the Western Cape. There is a large number of people that would be part of the co-operatives. This means that for co-operatives to function there is a need for a lot of support and capacity building from an administration, conflict management and economic management point of view.
There is also a need for infrastructure development support. The department has indicated that they are going to start a mentoring programme.
We have (heard) this before, we’re still waiting for this programme to be implemented in the other provinces where they have been allocated rights more than four years ago. The mentorship programme in itself is not going to be sufficient support for fishing communities and the co-operatives to be viable.
“Another major challenge is that the basket of species for fishers needs to be viable,” Masifundise programme manager Carmen Mannarino said.
Last week, small-scale fishers in the Western Cape were dealt a heavy blow following DFFE’s decision to cut the West Coast Rock Lobster Total Allowable Catch (WCRL TAC) by almost 17%.
Creecy noted that the department was “conscious that much more needs to be done to support the sector’s growth and development, and we are very committed to this process”.